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The Master and Margarita
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The Master & Margarita Faust 13 > Discussion - Week One - The Master & Margarita - Part One, ch. I - X

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
This discussion covers Part One, Chapter I – X, p. 3 – 94

On a hot spring evening at Patriarch’s Ponds, Berlioz and Bezdomny discuss theology with a foreign professor. On an early spring morning, Pontius Pilate discusses theology with a prisoner. Hoping to turn over the foreigner to the proper authorities, Berlioz loses his head. Bezdomny goes swimming and loses his clothing, so he visits is friends who are sure he’s actually lost his mind instead. In a flash, the doctor declares schizophrenia, and Ryukhin loses his self-esteem. Styopa wakes to find Woland waiting with chilled hair of the dog and some spicy nibblin’s. Ivan the poet has a tête à tête with Stravinsky the doctor. The chairman of the house committee speculates in foreign currency and gets carried away. Rimsky and Varenukha receive conflicting telegraphic reports from Yalta re: Styopa.

Welcome to 20th century Russia with its multiple Fausts and demons and victims. At first glance, Professor Woland might be analogous to the original Faust character with Korovyov serving a Mephistophelean role, but what about the fare-paying, vodka-drinking, portly feline? Can the interview between Pilate and Yeshua be analogous to Faust’s visits to Helen of Troy? Time will tell…


To avoid spoilers, please restrict your comments to Chapter I - X, pages 3 – 94.


Matthew | 86 comments On the opening chapter of M and M
When Berlioz and Ivan are discussing writing a life of Jesus Christ, except to make it antireligious, I instantly was thinking of the first iteration of the Faust myth and how it too was anti-religious (although more specifically anti-Catholic). That to me seemed important, and then to get another version of Christ with Pontious Pilate, actually had me thinking of Borges, and his prescient Gospel of Judas.

Jim, the more I think about it the more I can see the Pilate chapter as kind of a Helen of Troy episode, since it does feel like the professor does take us there in a semi-magical fashion.

I'm loving this a lot and find it interesting that it does stray the farthest from the original Faust story, but almost seems like looking at the Faust story from the Pov of the normal people who encounter him or his retinue. Sometimes I felt the back door dealings of Korovyov et al stood in place of evil things Bugulakov couldn't outright state about the state in his book.

I'm really enjoying this a lot, although its quite dense in some ways too, particularly given the little knowledge I have of Stalin-era Moscow, but the city itself is seems to be a character in the book.


message 3: by Whitney (last edited Mar 12, 2013 07:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Whitney | 326 comments Jim, as usual your summaries are golden. You really should gather them together and pedal them to the literati. They would also make good chapter headings for their respective books, Three Men in a Boat style.

TM&M is going to be a tough one to discuss piecemeal, as so much of it only falls into place in the later chapters; after all, we haven't even met our title characters yet! I think the Faustian elements may be more obvious later in the book as well.

I am enjoying reading this with notes, I definitely wouldn't have picked up on all the jabs at life under Stalin without help. I do recommend that site I posted in the resources thread, aside from other useful information, it has links to pictures of some of the sites in the novel, including Bulgakov's "evil" apartment. It shows some of the M&M related graffiti that now graces the walls.


message 4: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments Jim wrote: "This discussion covers Part One, Chapter I – X, p. 3 – 94

On a hot spring evening at Patriarch’s Ponds, Berlioz and Bezdomny discuss theology with a foreign professor. On an early spring morning, ..."


Jim, I love your suggestion of Woland being analogous to the Faust character with Korovyov being a Mephistophean character.

I was thinking of Woland as Satan (in other words, the "highest" power of the "evil world.") So Korovyov might have been "sort of" Mephistopheles, and I thought the "Faust" of this book is a character that does not show up until later on (so I will not reveal my thoughts in this thread.)

I love the cat!!

And I was very upset about Berlioz losing his head, because even though we didn't get to know him very well I really liked his character and I thought he would be playing a larger part in the story. I really liked the relationship between Berlioz and Ivan the poet, especially the way they each reacted when Woland approached them. That entire scene was fantastic, and a fabulous beginning to this story (I thought.)

I have so much more to say, but this is turning into an exhausting week for me.

I need to go back to the site that Whitney posted in the resources thread, because I'm rereading the book as we're discussing it here and I definitely need some reminders on the Stalinist jabs.


message 5: by Cleo (last edited Mar 13, 2013 07:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 58 comments I had the same impression as Barbara ........ I immediately thought Woland (the stranger) was Satan, especially with all the references to hell and the devil in that first chapter: "....what the devil ....", "...... where in the hell ......." And being able to know the past and future wouldn't be possible for a mere human. But, of course, I haven't read Faust (yet) so perhaps I'm missing something.

(the stranger) "I have indeed, I have indeed, and more than once!" he exclaimed, laughing, his unsmiling eye still focused on the poet. "And where haven't I been! ......."

The last part of that quote reminded me of Job 2:2
And the Lord said to Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan answered the Lord and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it"

What a very funny section where Berlioz explains to the stranger that they can talk very freely and openly about disbelieving in God. Considering that they are living, in Stalinist Russia and that in every other way they would be oppressed, it makes his statement very ironic, doesn't it? Also very ironic that while denying God, Berlioz (and Bezdomny) are meeting with the devil (or at least, I thought so).

Did anyone pick up all the references to birds? In chapter one blackbirds are circling overhead but after the stranger's story about Pontius Pilate, there are references to swallows and sparrows. I'm not sure if this is meaningful or not.

When one puts together Berloiz's monologue on the veneration of different gods, the various inconsistent reports of the stranger that are alluded to, Berloiz and Bezdomny's different impressions of him, and the altered story in Pontius Pilate, can we concluded that Bulgakov is trying to get across how information can be altered depending on human observation and the unreliability of those observations? I'm pondering this ............

Sorry for the quick post everyone. I'm going out of town (without internet) for the next fews days but I'll return on Sunday so I'll look forward to reading all your comments then.


Whitney | 326 comments Cleo wrote: "(the stranger) "I have indeed, I have indeed, and more than once!" he exclaimed, laughing, his unsmiling eye still focused on the poet. "And where haven't I been! ......."

Good catch - yes I think there probably is deliberate resonance with Job!

There are a lot of bird references, and they continue throughout the book. The sparrow in the first Pontius Pilate section was the most demanding of attention, swooping around Pilate. I read somewhere speculation that the sparrow was Woland. (Anyone know of any connections between sparrows and Satan?)

I also thought the bragging line about being able to speak freely about atheism was deliberate irony. Berlioz says it implying that it represents a greater freedom in Russia, while the reality is that he can 'speak freely' because he is spouting the official party line.


message 7: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
I read the first essay in The Master and Margarita: A Critical Companion which gives an overview of different approaches to reading the book. I have to agree with them that Woland is the devil (Mephistopheles) character. They also suggest that Korovyov takes on the role of Faust, but in this book Faust becomes the servant rather than the master. Of course TM&M isn't a re-make of the Faust story, but simply borrows aspects to suit Bulgakov's purposes. The Weeks book is a good companion, as the title says, and worth a read. It approaches the book as a whole, so if you don't like spoilers, you'd probably want to wait until you finish the book.


Ellie (elliearcher) It amazes me how little I care about spoilers-does this say something bad about me as a reader? I find knowing what happens leaves me freer to engage with the book and understand its structure.


message 9: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Ellie wrote: "It amazes me how little I care about spoilers-does this say something bad about me as a reader? I find knowing what happens leaves me freer to engage with the book and understand its structure."

Unless it's a whodunit murder mystery, I agree with you.

BTW, thanks for the recommendation of the Weeks book. It's scholarly without being overly academic.

Anyone have any thoughts about the overall relation between the Moscow story and the Pilate/Yeshua story?


message 10: by Anna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna Cleo wrote: "What a very funny section where Berlioz explains to the stranger that they can talk very freely and openly about disbelieving in God. Considering that they are living, in Stalinist Russia and that in every other way they would be oppressed, it makes his statement very ironic, doesn't it?"

I don't know how much you know about the history of Soviet Union and why this book was written, but it was written as a criticism of the system. The idea is to show the soviet system in a absurd light and the fantasy part as normal. And then again, Soviet Union was all about atheism. Religion was banned. So, in Stalinist Russia, what you COULD discuss freely about was how you don't believe in God.


message 11: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Anna wrote: "Religion was banned. So, in Stalinist Russia, what you COULD discuss freely about was how you don't believe in God..."

And so, by extension, it was practically necessary to discuss your atheism to fit in to the political reality.

Any thoughts about how the Pilate story relates to official Soviet atheism?


message 12: by Anna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna I thin the Pilate story passed the censorship, because it was described as historical events, not as religious story. As in Bulgakov shows the myth as real and as historically accurate as possible (e.g. he uses the aramaic name for Jesus, Yeshua, which is historically more accurate) and the current events in the soviet system as a myth. For any more thoughts I really need to read this again (the problem being that I only have it in Russian, so it takes a whole lot of time and energy...)


message 13: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Anna wrote: "I thin the Pilate story passed the censorship, because it was described as historical events, not as religious story. As in Bulgakov shows the myth as real and as historically accurate as possible ..."

That makes sense. The Critical Companion book (message 7 above) I'm reading points out his use of Aramaic and a re-imagining of the biblical version of the story to make it more about history than myth.


message 14: by Anna (last edited Mar 16, 2013 06:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna I would love a critical companion! Too bad they don't have it as an ebook :( I did found a website with some analysis and stuff: Master and Margarita.

I think I need to take a look at Faust as well, since I've never read that.


message 15: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Anna wrote: "I would love a critical companion! Too bad they don't have it as an ebook :( I did found a website with some analysis and stuff: Master and Margarita.

I think I need to take a look at Faust as we..."


Whitney posted this over in the 'Questions...' thread

http://cr.middlebury.edu/public/russi...

Take a look...


message 16: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments I have so many thoughts I want to share, but I have the WORST sinus infection which is causing a splitting headache. So due to my own "brain pain" I have not been able to post much this past week here in "Brain Pain."

I'll join in when the second week's thread starts, although there are some comments I'd like to make in this thread regarding Soviet atheism. Hopefully some of you will look back at this thread even once the new thread begins.


message 17: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Barbara wrote: "I have so many thoughts I want to share, but I have the WORST sinus infection which is causing a splitting headache. So due to my own "brain pain" I have not been able to post much this past week h..."

Barbara, you can consolidate your comments into the Week Two discussion if you want to, as they are cumulative. Get well soon!


message 18: by Cleo (last edited Mar 18, 2013 12:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 58 comments I am back and part way through Week Two but I'll post some of my comments on Week One here. I just love this book but I feel like I'm being whizzed through a haunted house blindfolded and never know what is going to turn up! The surprises in each chapter make me want to read through the book without any resources, just for the joy of it, and when I'm finished, THEN dig deeper. In any case, it is a fascinating ride!

Chapter VIII - The Duel Between the Professor and the Poet had me laughing so hard! My exposure to Russian Literature is quite basic (Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky) but I would never have believed a Russian could write something so humorous. Of course, there is the overlying seriousness of the interrogations put into a realistic circumstance, but I was amazed that, even though I knew Ivan was telling the truth, his explanation sounded completely ludicrous and I wondered for a moment if I did believe him.

Also Stavinsky's comment to Ivan: "All sorts of stories can be told! Not all of them have to be believed." True but it sounds very relative which is further alluded to in the next chapter where Korovyov tells Nikanor Ivanovich: "How do you define official and unofficial. All that depends on your point of view. All that is arbitrary and relative." If everything is arbitrary and relative, how do you define right and wrong? Very convenient statements for the devil/demons/Stalinists.

Anna wrote: "I don't know how much you know about the history of Soviet Union and why this book was written, but it was written as a criticism of the system."

I know very little about the history of the Soviet Union but I hope I know enough to pick up the basic references in the book, hence my comment on the irony. Please feel free to add to my meager knowledge. :-) I was going to try to use a Western Civ textbook to read through the ten years before and after this period but, with trying to keep up with my reading schedule, I haven't been able to do that yet.

Anna wrote: "I thin the Pilate story passed the censorship, because it was described as historical events, not as religious story."

Interesting .......... Do you think that this view has come around 180 degrees in modern times? It seems now atheist cultures would want this story viewed as a religious story/myth to negate its importance, instead of an historical fact.


message 19: by Cleo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 58 comments Barbara ~ hope you are feeling better soon!


message 20: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments Cleo wrote: "Barbara ~ hope you are feeling better soon!"

Thank you Jim and Cleo, for the "get well" wishes!! Now I know the "real" meaning of "brain pain."

As soon as I can think clearly enough to write something that will make sense, I will post here. For now, I'm enjoying reading everyone's comments.

Cleo, I'm so glad that you love this book. I loved it too, and I also found a lot of parts very confusing.


Ellie (elliearcher) Although I'm not up for a reread so soon, I'm following this discussion with great interest-I wish I had waited to read it til now! But I'm learning a lot in retrospect about my read & am glad you all are enjoying it so much. Even in my ignorance, I loved this book.


message 22: by Cleo (last edited Mar 19, 2013 10:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 58 comments Ellie wrote: "Although I'm not up for a reread so soon, I'm following this discussion with great interest-I wish I had waited to read it til now! But I'm learning a lot in retrospect about my read & am glad you ..."

Do you remember how you felt when you first began to read it? Awe? Wonder? Confusion? Puzzlement? What character affected you the most at the beginning?

I can't remember reading a book where I've had such a varied first reaction. Then I feel like I'm muddling around trying to look at the biblical references and the historical references while dealing with simpler references such as birds and the colours black and white (and red). Wow!


Whitney | 326 comments Cleo wrote: "Anna wrote: "I thin the Pilate story passed the censorship, because it was described as historical events, not as religious story."

Interesting .......... Do you think that this view has come around 180 degrees in modern times? It seems now atheist cultures would want this story viewed as a religious story/myth to negate its importance, instead of an historical fact..."


I picked up the opposite idea from the book. It begins with Berlioz, a stooge of the system if ever there was on, telling Ivan that his poem about Jesus was unacceptable because he made Jesus too believable and life-like, instead of making it clear he was a myth like so many others. There are similar implications later in the book.

Artists from countries with harsh censorship laws sometimes talk about playing with how far they can take cryptic ridicule of the censors themselves without the censors realizing it. It seems to me that Bulgakov may be engaging in this to some extent with his characters like Berlioz, who are ostensibly respected but in reality buffoons.


message 24: by Whitney (last edited Mar 19, 2013 11:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Whitney | 326 comments Cleo wrote: "...Korovyov tells Nikanor Ivanovich: "How do you define official and unofficial. All that depends on your point of view. All that is arbitrary and relative." If everything is arbitrary and relative, how do you define right and wrong? Very convenient statements for the devil/demons/Stalinists..."

Cleo, yes, great observation! I know the book is full of references to specifics of life in Stalinist Russia that also have resonance with the larger themes, and I also know that I am missing most of them. In this case I think you picked out an excellent one: the easy rise and fall from peasant to position of power in the Soviet system, and the larger question of right and wrong especially as it relates to Satan / Stalinists (and, I would add, Pontius Pilate).

And I did read this originally in the way you talk about, just enjoying the ride (cat with a machine gun, cool!) and not getting most of the references. Now really enjoying the second read with the notes and the discussion, making it a whole new book.


message 25: by Anna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna I just noticed these comments and as they are both about the same comment made by me, I thought I would address in the same post. First, as a disclaimer: I have no official truth or anything, I did study Russian trade in Uni and I lived in Moscow for a year and I've always been interested in history, but of course I'm sure I've missed things and this is just my view.

Cleo wrote: "Interesting .......... Do you think that this view has come around 180 degrees in modern times? It seems now atheist cultures would want this story viewed as a religious story/myth to negate its importance, instead of an historical fact. "

I would say, knowing many atheists in Finland (this might be different in US...) and being more of an agnostic myself that it would be in the atheist interest to show the story as history as people. We do know that Jesus and Pontius Pilate were historical characters and stripping the wonders Jesus did in the Bible would seem like an atheist viewpoint to me. As in show how it could've been without miracles or God's plan. Also, I know that Bulgakov himself was an atheist, but of course about his thoughts I can only guess...

Whitney wrote: "I picked up the opposite idea from the book. It begins with Berlioz, a stooge of the system if ever there was on, telling Ivan that his poem about Jesus was unacceptable because he made Jesus too believable and life-like, instead of making it clear he was a myth like so many others. There are similar implications later in the book."

Ok, I had to go back to the book for this one, as I read it 10 years ago... But I sort of thought that it was just that: Berlioz was a stooge of the system, a person that couldn't think himself, but was implementing what he thought the Soviet system "wanted".

Although, now checking something (Bulgakov was never sent to Siberia), I noticed that the book was actually banned for a very long time and only published in its entirety in 1989... So, maybe it didn't pass the censorship after all...


Catherine (catjackson) I just picked the novel up again after a couple of weeks and I am really behind. I know that's not really a problem and I'll catch up. :) This really is an intriguing novel and I'm, I don't know that loving is the right word, but appreciating the back and forth between the Procurator and Pilate. Some interesting allusions there...


Whitney | 326 comments Catherine wrote: "appreciating the back and forth between the Procurator and Pilate. Some interesting allusions there..."

What allusions are you noticing, Catherine? Please share with the group! (and I assume you mean between Ha Notsri and Pilate).


message 28: by Dee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dee (deinonychus) | 27 comments I've only read the first few chapters so far, but I was fascinated by the Pilate episode. For a start, it seems so much more 'real' than the rest of the story. I agree with what someone said earlier about the contemporary story being presented as myth, and the Pilate story presented as historical fact. I guess it's a question abut what people are prepared to believe.

As for the name Woland, the notes at the back of my translation point out that Woland was an old German name for Satan. (Those of you who have read Goethe's Faust will no doubt be aware of this)


message 29: by Tracy (last edited Jul 17, 2013 12:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tracy Reilly (tracyreilly) | 158 comments Barbara wrote: "Jim wrote: "This discussion covers Part One, Chapter I – X, p. 3 – 94

On a hot spring evening at Patriarch’s Ponds, Berlioz and Bezdomny discuss theology with a foreign professor. On an early spri..."


Hmmm. About the--is Woland Satan or Faust argument. I like the idea of Korovyov being Mephisto, as he has that jester-like quality you see in some of the legends.

Later edit!! Wait, am I mixing up Koroyyov with Azazello? It's been awhile since I read, sorry!!

But the "demon team" has additional members, and it makes me think of the old Xian concept that Satan (evil) takes multiple shapes, the ultimate shape-shifter, in fact, so more than one of them, perhaps, represents? It's an idea that goes all the way back to Beowulf in English culture, and I'm sure the Bible too--Beowulf describes Grendel as the spawn, among thousands of other demons, that sprung from the drops of Abel's blood that fell to the ground when Cain killed him.

One thing I know is that Russians I've talked to, who know the story, think of Woland as Satan/Mephistopeles, or at least a demon, but perhaps not the stereotypical one who Incorporates evil. Maybe the influence of Soviet/anti-religious times creating a filter? There is also a sort of fascination I see in Russian culture for the older, Slavic mythology that is less black and white about associating supernatural beings with evil---like Gogol's" Viy".

I think it is interesting that the roots of the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church) are not as old as Catholic European doctrine--I think the ROC was established at least 500 years after the Council of Nicea that codified most European Xianity. It makes me wonder if the Russian world is much more layered and flexible about religious philosophy than the West.

For this reason, when I'm reading this story, I like to think of Woland, et. al. as "dark" creatures, but not necessarily evil. They dwell in some sort of supernatural, therefore scary and awe-inspiring ,world that is more subconscious but still true--what we don't know.


Tracy Reilly (tracyreilly) | 158 comments David wrote: "I've only read the first few chapters so far, but I was fascinated by the Pilate episode. For a start, it seems so much more 'real' than the rest of the story. I agree with what someone said earlie..."

David, I too, found the Pilate sequence the most fascinating in the book(and the movie version), and the Jesus figure!! I find him to be the most compelling character in the story--and his point of view, his humor, is somehow so unexpected.

I wanted to mention that Pilate's faithful dog, Banga, is the subject of an entire Patti Smith album..(Called Banga), for what it's worth. It's not my favorite music, but it may be worth a listen.


Tracy Reilly (tracyreilly) | 158 comments Anna said, "Although, now checking something (Bulgakov was never sent to Siberia), I noticed that the book was actually banned for a very long time and only published in its entirety in 1989... So, maybe it didn't pass the censorship after all... "

I'm not sure, if Bulgakov self-censored, as I think it was his wife who eventually got the book published. Can anyone confirm this?

Anna, that is my understanding too, and I think Russians associate the publication of this novel with Perestroika, and all the changes that occurred with the break-up of the CCCP. I think this is why they have such a strong feeling for the story. The same thing occurred around that time with rock music, which was at first banned then later controlled by the KGB, so there is a similar strong feeling for the music of that time as well.


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